Or is it lost in the flurry of socialist schemes?
At the end of one year in office, public opinion remains strongly in support of prime minister Narendra Modi. It is universally acknowledged that the days of rampant, monumental, high-level corruption are over and that his foreign engagements have been an impressive image boost for the nation. The average Indian, especially BJP supporters, will aggressively assert that it takes time to clean up the mess inherited after a decade of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). And, when industry captains complain about the lack of access to Union ministers, they get no public sympathy. There is good reason for this.
Under the UPA, crony capitalism had reached a stage where industrialists were inside parliament as ‘honourable’ members, shaping policy to facilitate large-scale loot of India’s resources. Open plunder took place in land dealings (remember Singur and the special economic zones), telecom (2G spectrum scandal), allocation of coal mines, iron ore, irrigation, aviation, power and infrastructure. The net worth of many industrialists shot up in direct proportion to the increase in bad loans of public sector banks that financed this loot.
Significantly, most of the blue-chip names of Indian business were involved in these shenanigans; but only a few will face the consequences. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has the dirty job of cleaning up the mess. The public knows this; which is why Mr Modi’s clearly articulated vision for India persuaded many to give him the best ever electoral mandate in 30 years.
But a year later, some BJP senior leaders are also worried with the pace and direction of change. Writing in The Hindu, Dr Subramanian Swamy, an economist who taught at Harvard, says that instead of heading for GDP growth of 10%+, ‘regressive markers’ are rearing their head. Among others, he flags the recapitalisation of public sector banks (PSBs), which is going to need Rs1,21,000 crore in this financial year against a provision of Rs11,200 crore in the Union Budget. If the rest were to be raised through public sector disinvestment, the government has done a great job or frightening away foreign investment with the threat of continued ‘taxtortion’. Reform, and even top appointments, at PSBs have yet to begin.
Importantly, Dr Swamy reveals that a blueprint for recovery called the ‘Vision Document 2020’ was prepared for the prime minister under the leadership of Nitin Gadkari which has not been implemented.
Dr Swamy does not disclose what Vision Document 2020 was; but he flags key issues that need to be addressed: low-yield, one-crop agriculture employing 62% of the labour force; flawed education system; poor infrastructure; and massive poverty.
What is perplexing is that the government is more focused on social welfare schemes which are necessary but could easily have been put off for a year or two while working to get the economy back on the high growth path. It is also disappointing that a government that promised ‘maximum governance’ seems to have no interest in appointing a central information commissioner under the Right to Information Act.
And, yet, all things considered, if one were asked whether Modi Sarkar is an improvement on the deadening UPA decade, the answer would be a resounding ‘Yes’. Will Mr Modi realise that better economic performance, job creation and agricultural growth must come first?